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  1. #1

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    TV Show Lifespans - Is it really better for good shows to keep going?

    A friend and I were discussing the recently completed Spartacus series. The series was still high quality and producing great ratings for Starz, but the producers decided to end it this year, rather than drag out the rebellion. Although fans were disappointed there wasn't another season, I think it was very smart for them to end it after 3 seasons (4 if you count the prequel). Even before I knew they were ending it this year, I felt the story arc consisted of Spartacus escaping, Spartacus killing Glaber, and Spartacus' army finally losing to Crassus. Those 3 events were great climaxes for their seasons and I think the show benefited from having their seasons build up to those 3 historical points.

    In contrast, I've seen many great shows with interesting concepts have great first seasons but then sort of fizzle out because the writers are trying to drag the story too long, in order to make more money for the networks. That was initially the problem with lost which had a great first season, then had some sucky seasons until they decided when they would end it. I'm sort of seeing it now with Revenge as they now have this whole mess with the initiative. And it was definitely a problem with Desperate Housewives after the first season when they solved the mystery but then had to keep adding more stuff.

    So I'm wondering if the American model where TV shows last as long as they can is really better than the model in other countries where shows are only planned for one or two seasons, and the show runners definitely know how it is going to end. Thoughts?

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    I have watched a lot of tv shows over my lifetime and there are very few shows that I actually watched and thought "Boy, that show lasted too long. Why did I continue watching it?" I mean, I suppose a show like CSI is running too long but since I never watched the show (except the one with Sasha in it--or was she in one of the spinoffs?) it's not like I care.

    There are A LOT more shows that I wished ran longer than it did--from those shows that were cancelled too early like GCB to those shows that could've run longer than it did (i.e. Lost).

  3. #3
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    LOST is considered the poster child for shows that choose to end, and in doing so, become better for it. The series was starting to lose focus after a few seasons, and by setting an end (I believe at least 2 seasons before the finale), the creators were able to come up with a full story arc rather than continue to just have weird things happen to the people on the island (and worse - risking getting cancelled with no time to wrap up the series, which would be HORRIBLE for a series all about mystery). Many people disliked the resolution to the series, but I always felt that any resolution would feel like a letdown, and certainly the entire final season was pointing to how it ended. But the show got the rare gift of buyoff from ABC - a guarantee that the show would get the full number of seasons the writers were preparing for.

    CSI has lost its initial mojo and become formulaic...but it's a formula series and always has been. procedurals can just keep going, because anyone can drop in or out at any time and not feel like they've missed out.

    There have been a few series (mostly summer shows) that have either been designed to end after a short run, or possibly start up again with a whole new story...although these shows never seem to gain a big audience and are never picked up for future seasons. I actually prefer them as they were.

    I would say Desperate Housewives went on way too long. It became a mockery of itself. And as much as I loved the first several years of Roseanne, it ran at least 2 years too long.
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    Re: TV Show Lifespans - Is it really better for good shows to keep going?

    I think a show can definitely run too long. This seems to be especially so with dramas. I love that shows like Fringe or Lost only lasted a few seasons. If those shows had lasted longer people would have become bored and stopped watching. You can only drag out a continuous plot so much. I think Mad Men is running into this problem but since the show's writers have said that next season will be the last, I'm sticking with it.

    Even shows without a continuous plot can become stale after a while. I'm surprised that Law & Order: SVU is still on. I think the writers have run out of fresh plots ages ago but it still lingers.

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    I think Will and Grace is an example of a show that went on too long. The final couple seasons paled in comparison to the show's earlier seasons, and the show started relying too much on whatever big name guest star they could snag.

    The original 90210 also lasted about two seasons too long.

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    I agree - some shows last too long, due to economics.
    I am finding now I am enjoying more of the shows that have shorter seasons (like 10 or 12 episodes) than the 20+. I am thinking it gives the creators/writers more time for quality..
    I too loved Lost at the beginning, but was glad they announced a plan. There have been shows like Desperate Housewives I just stopped watching, or shows like ER I watched out of habit, but did not enjoy as much the last few years.
    But I wonder if some of the shows that I stop watching are because of either cast or regime changes.
    But then I still miss the West Wing! Even after Aaron Sorkin left, the show was not as great, but was better than most things on tv.

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    Apparently seven seasons is the magic number with respect to profiting from the selling a series to different TV/cable providers.

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    A prime example is the Simpson's. Probably going on 10 season's too long, it's still very profitable for Fox, and the actors still make good money without a huge amount of time spent on each ep compared to a live action show.

    But the litany of shows that went on too long goes back to Ozzie and Harriet and Gunsmoke, with Cheers and the Cosby Show thrown in. And in almost every case, it's because it was just making too much money to cancel, regardless of the quality of the show.

    It's a rare show that either goes out on top, or had a planned story arc that had the story told in a certain number of episodes. The Dick Van Dyke Show is a prime example. Five outstanding seasons then done.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by KHenry14 View Post
    A prime example is the Simpson's. Probably going on 10 season's too long, it's still very profitable for Fox, and the actors still make good money without a huge amount of time spent on each ep compared to a live action show.
    On the other hand, South Park is still, overall, very funny. There are a few duds but I think so long as Trey and Matt are still into it and feel like making fun of people, and that there are people to be made fun of, then I can see the show going on for as long as Trey and Matt want to. With the Simpsons, I think the problem is that,since they have a pretty long lead time (as opposed to South Park, where they do throw it together in about a week), a lot of the jokes seem stale when they get around to it.

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    Most of the shows I used to watch (sitcoms especially) are unbearable now: The Office, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory. I can't stand them anymore- all past their prime, and it seems like some of the actors even are just phoning it in.

    American TV doesn't know how to wrap things up and end on a high note, and instead just wait for cancellation.

  11. #11
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    A lot of times, if a show is good, the writers get new deals to become producers on their own shows and it's hard to keep up the quality after a few seasons .
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  12. #12

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    American shows aren't the only ones that fall prey to staying on too long. Spooks had more inconsistency and relied on more shock value in the last few seasons. It probably should have stopped at season 4.
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  13. #13
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    Weeds is the first show that comes to mind. In its first few seasons, it was fresh and different, hilarious yet also serious, great characters, great acting. That was enough to carry it when the plot moved out of the original setting at first, but as they family went on the run they literally and philosophically got further and further away from what made it so great at the beginning. Eventually I just stopped watching it.

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    It really depends, doesn't it? A procedural can go on and on because by its very nature it is always the same. The CSIs and L&Os are like comfort food. You tune in, and although the cases are different, you know by the end the case will be solved (usually). It's what keeps them sucessful.

    But, that said, overall I really think that shorter it better. Tell your story and get out while the getting is good. I never watched Babylon 5, but it's my understanding that they always had a clear understanding of the entire story arc. The X-Files, on the other hand, never really did. Add to that, the fact that despite everything that happened, Mulder and Scully never seemed to exhibit any change. Static characters. Then, Fox basically threw money at them to keep going, and it meant that it went on far longer than it should.

    I'm also a fan of the 13 episode season if it gives the writers more time to craft the stories. Twenty-two is just an insane amount.

    It all comes down to the writing in the end. Good writers can keep a show going longer than anyone would think it could go.

    Quote Originally Posted by Japanfan View Post
    Apparently seven seasons is the magic number with respect to profiting from the selling a series to different TV/cable providers.
    It's actually the 100 episode mark. So mid-season 5 for US TV shows (which are usually about a 22 ep season). At they point they can be "stripped" for syndication. The idea is you can go about 6 mos. on a M-F schedule, and then do it again.

  15. #15
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    Some shows can go on forever, if they have a format and a story that allows it. Prime example: Doctor Who. Throw in some fresh actors and writers from time to time and it's good to go. (And I do think it might be time for Steven Moffat to step down as the showrunner...)

    Otherwise I think it comes down to whether the show is founded on a story or situations. Shows based on situations could, at least in theory, keep going as long as the situations are fresh/funny/intriguing/dramatic enough. The writers of story-based shows should, in my opinion, have some idea of how to end things right from the start, lest they end up like Heroes, or Lost for that matter - awesome start, then increasingly confusing and uninteresting.

  16. #16
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    I agree that HIMYM has gone on about 2-3 seasons too long already. I know many critics were excited when they thought this would be the last season (and probably Jason Segel as well, since his movie career is going well), but it's coming back for yet another.

    There are some, though, where long runs work. I love the show Psych, which is in its 7th season and has been renewed for an 8th, and it's still quality. And, of course, they just threw in some drama in the last few episodes which keeps the awesomeness going. Dexter is the same, though they work it really well with (usually) having the one 'big bad' for each season.

    True Blood has gone down the crapper. I love the book series, and Alexander Skarsgård, but aside from him (and Nelsan Ellis, who plays Lafayette), the show is completely terrible. Most people I know who watch the show say that they are the only 2 reasons to keep watching. The show is ridiculous now, but that may be because they are completely disregarding the books now.

    Another show I used to love, but then went to shit was Alias. Seasons 1 and 2 were amazing. Then they threw in a memory/time loss, lover getting married during the time loss, long lost sister, pregnancy, death fake-outs, stupidly done sci fi stuff...

  17. #17
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    It depends, are the writers writing scripts for NCIS or are they writing the X-Files? If the former, go for it. (There are no plans to end NCIS any time soon.) If the latter...they should have stopped while they could. (Around season five or thereabouts.) They ran into a problem (not ACTUALLY having a plan and running out of ideas) that can be avoided either by being a procedural, or by doing what JMS did for Babylon 5--he had an outline, he stuck to it, and even built in "trap doors" in case actors left.

    And long-runners aren't just an American thing. Last of the Summer Wine is about as English as it gets and I think they ran for, what, twenty-odd years? Thirty?

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    Quote Originally Posted by genevieve View Post
    LOST is considered the poster child for shows that choose to end, and in doing so, become better for it.
    I felt the storytelling of Lost was so incredible that I was ready for many years of learning about each person on the island...layer by layer. So originally I thought the show could have lasted at least ten years. Once a loud minority of the viewing public started whining, the creators of the show crumbled and let the whiners influence their art. I thought this was a bad move. I wish those who weren't enjoying the show anymore would have kept their snivelling to themselves...and just stopped watching. Let those of us who love the show keep loving it. And let the creators...create. That said, I'm glad we at least got six seasons of this phenomenal show.
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    I'm starting to feel that way about Bones; Christine's birth has brought the show perilously close to jumping that shark. I'll still watch it, but the season finale was frustrating and disappointing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex View Post
    I'm starting to feel that way about Bones; Christine's birth has brought the show perilously close to jumping that shark. I'll still watch it, but the season finale was frustrating and disappointing.
    IMO, Bones season finales have always been more disappointing than not.

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